Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What do teachers do?

The above Tweet was my take on a comment made at the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) Conference. I agree with the President's point. An unintended consequence of compulsory education in the United States is that everybody thinks they know what it takes to teach but these people have only experienced education from the student-side of the desk. It is important to remember that those interested in becoming a teacher also fall into this category. Teacher preparation needs to make explicit what it means to be a teacher.

I am in the process of redesigning a probability and statistics course for preservice elementary teachers and I want to be sure that the activities in the course reflect the actual work of teachers - especially those aspects that go on behind the scenes. In order to set the intention that they will be doing the work of teaching, I am going to call my students teachers and group them according to grade levels and schools. Furthermore, the course will concentrate on the three areas of the Teaching-Learning Cycle that are often invisible to the casual educational observer: Assessment, Evaluation, and Planning.

Because I just finished reading Hattie's (2011) Visible Learning for Teachers, I want the overall theme of the course to be "Teaching is Learning." Too often, people interested in teaching think it is about telling or controlling or managing or ... because that is what they saw. And while teaching may involve these behaviors, if the teacher is not learning about the content and the learners along the way to inform instructional choices, then the teacher's actions will be haphazard and likely ineffective.

The course is separated into three projects. Each project is worth 30 points toward the teacher's final grade. Engagement Exemplars make up the last 10 points.

In the first project, schools will create 6-8 curricula using the Standards for Mathematical Practices (SMP) and the content standards for Probability and Statistics from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This is intended to make it clear that the CCSS do not represent a curriculum but require teachers to create units appropriate for their students. The 6-8 curricula will build on a K-5 curriculum using the SMP and Data and Measurement Standards that we will create together beforehand for practice.

The second project will require each teacher to demonstrate competency in the content associated with the standards in the curriculum. It is important that teachers are fluent with the mathematics they are teaching in order to assess understanding and select appropriate learning trajectories. Sometimes teachers encounter new content during their planning that they have to learn for themselves first. I remember having to teach myself about box-and-whisker plots when the topic showed up on the Eighth-grade Michigan Curriculum Framework. In order to demonstrate competency in the content, my teachers can choose between creating a problem portfolio or taking traditional exams.

For the final project, teaching pairs will conduct formative assessments on middle school students. They will gather data related to the students' understanding in Probability and Statistics and ability in the Standards for Mathematical Practice. In order to determine students' fluency, the teaching pairs will use the evaluation framework from the Teaching-Learning Cycle: What can they do; What are they trying to do; and What comes next?

The goal is that the teachers will leave this course with a better understanding of what teachers do and a set of tools that will empower them to teach effectively regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in during their career. Again, it comes down to phronesis.

So what do you think? Besides drinking large amounts of coffee, have I forgot anything that teachers do?

1 comment:

  1. Just yesterday I had a crash review of a sideways view of arithmetic sequences... it was ego-affirming and amusing to the student that the math prof I pulled in (I usually just help w/ pre-college) went through exactly the same talk-aloud process. We definitely do better when we also learn the assorted paths that students with different backgrounds & approaches can take to build comprehension if we enable that, as opposed to learning the equivalent of rote decoding.